Sunday, October 27, 2019

Review: A Mackenzie Clan Christmas by Jennifer Ashley

A Mackenzie Clan Christmas by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Mackenzies & McBrides, Book 8.5 & Book 11.5
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Historical Romance
ISBN: 9781984805584
Release Date: October 29, 2019
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible
Jennifer Ashley Reading Order

Celebrate the holidays with New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Ashley's Mackenzie clan in two heartwarming novellas.

Includes a never before published Mackenzie Christmas novella!

When the Mackenzie family gathers in Scotland to celebrate the holidays the love and joy of the Christmas spirit captures everyone's hearts.

And a reader favorite…A Mackenzie Clan Gathering
The Mackenzie clan has gathered for Hart's birthday at the sprawling family estate in Scotland. But before the festivities can start, the house is robbed, and thieves make off with an untold fortune in rare art.

Ian Mackenzie and his brothers must do what they can to retrieve the family treasure, but Ian is distracted by a family friend who claims he might have the power to "cure" Ian of his madness forever. All the Mackenzies must draw together as courage, love, and a tantalizing mystery serve to strengthen their bond, and redefine the meaning of family.

“A Mackenzie Yuletide” (Mackenzies & McBrides, Book 11.5)
A ghostly visitor, a missing artifact, and multiple generations of Mackenzies getting in on both hunts? Sign me up! “A Mackenzie Yuletide” is a delightful Christmastime romp featuring one of my favorite families.

It’s December 1898 and Mac Mackenzie is at Kilmorgan painting when he spies a ghost. His siblings and their various offspring are determined to settle their supernatural debate over the existence of ghosts by catching the specter. Meanwhile, Ian Mackenzie is equally determined to get the perfect Hogmanay gift for his wife, Beth. But the priceless antique necklace has been stolen and he’s not the only person – or even the only Mackenzie – searching for it. Both mysteries are delightful, mostly because various Mackenzies team up to solve the cases.

Ian has always been a scene-stealer for me, so I was delighted to catch up with both him and his beloved Beth. Their love for one another and their children is as strong as ever and spending time with them was pure joy. And speaking of their children, author Jennifer Ashley gives an exciting peek into the minds of some of the Mackenzie children. The only downside to this? I desperately hope the younger Mackenzies get books of their own one day because they are as fascinating as their parents. Cam’s daughter, Gavina, intrigued me most of all and her determination never to wed means she’s practically begging for a book of her own.

The Mackenzie clan is bright, boisterous, and unique. The romantic and familial bonds are on full display in “A Mackenzie Yuletide” and made me smile more than once. I’m so glad I got to go on another adventure with the Mackenzies and I desperately hope Ms. Ashley has more stories in store for them.


“A Mackenzie Clan Gathering” (Mackenzies & McBrides, Book 8.5)
“A Mackenzie Clan Gathering” is a beautiful story brimming with emotion. Fans of the Mackenzies & McBrides series won’t want to miss this novella, for it’s sure to make you fall in love with the Mackenzies all over again.

Ian, Beth, and their children are the only Mackenzies in residence at Kilmorgan when thieves break in, stealing a good portion of the duke’s art collection. Ian is determined to track the culprits before the rest of his family shows up, but he’s sidetracked by the arrival of Beth’s late husband’s brother, a man who claims he can cure Ian of his “madness.” Ian and Beth are two of my all-time favorite characters, and in “A Mackenzie Clan Gathering” we get to see how they’ve grown over the years they’ve been married. Their bond is stronger than ever, but when Ian is tempted with the possibility of being “cured,” it just about broke my heart, especially because he wants to do so for Beth’s sake. Of course, we know two things: (1) Beth loves him just the way he is and (2) Ian isn’t mad, nor does he need to be “cured” – he has Asperger’s, decades before anyone knows what that is. What follows I’ll leave readers to discover, but I will say that we get to see more interesting things about the Mackenzie family. Most importantly, Ms. Ashley touched my emotions showing the deep bonds of love – romantic and familial – among the Mackenzie clan.

The investigation into who is behind the art theft takes some interesting turns, tying into the series in an unexpected way. And though “A Mackenzie Clan Gathering” is primarily Ian and Beth’s story, other family members do get their moments to shine. I’ll never get tired of seeing Hart with Ian; the duke’s love for his youngest brother never fails to grab me and revisiting this novella made me want to re-read their books all over again. If you’re new to the series, don’t worry – you’ll still be able to follow along. But truly, this story is probably best enjoyed if you’re already invested in the Mackenzie & McBrides series. I absolutely loved revisiting Ian and Beth and I hope Ms. Ashley continues to gift readers with more glimpses into what happens after happily ever after for the entire Mackenzie clan.


A Mackenzie Clan Christmas is perfect for any fan of Ms. Ashley’s Mackenzie family. It’s lovely to catch up with such beloved characters after their happily ever after, to see the bonds of love and family strengthen as their number grows. Both novellas warmed my heart and made me smile; they’re the perfect holiday reads that you can enjoy all year long.


FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Review: The Highland Outlaw by Heather McCollum

The Highland Outlaw by Heather McCollum
Series: The Campbells, Book 4
Publisher: Entangled: Amara
Genre: Historical Romance
ISBN: 9781640638716
Release Date: October 21, 2019
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Entangled

Shaw Sinclair, chief of the outcast clan of Sinclairs of Caithness in northern Scotland, has made a deal with the devil. Despite his strength and lethal skills, he needs help—specifically from a woman—to accomplish his mission to bring a bairn to safety to the coast. When he meets the brave and beautiful Alana Campbell at a Samhain Festival, he decides she's the one.

Alana Campbell is ready to show the world she's just as skillful with a sgian dubh as any man. Attracting the attention of the brawny chief who coerces her to join him on his journey to the coast of Scotland gives her that very opportunity. Sparks flash between them as they're forced to act as husband and wife to accomplish the deadly mission. However, when secrets threaten to tear them apart, they have to decide if their differences outweigh the reality of their feelings…

Shaw Sinclair grew up under the brutal thumb of his wastrel uncle who sold the Sinclair lands to the Campbells. Shaw takes his duties as chief of the Sinclair clan seriously and is determined to protect his people at all costs. His fears for their welfare are well-founded so when the chance to reclaim his lands and guarantee health and safety for his people is offered, he jumps on it. All he has to do is deliver a very important newborn to the coast where she’ll be taken to France. But when the baby is delivered to Shaw, starving and clearly in imminent danger, Shaw knows he and his trusted warriors are going to need help. Chance throws him in the path of Alana Campbell and when her problem-solving skills and kind heart show she’d be perfect to help with the baby, Shaw kidnaps then bargains with her to gain her assistance. Their journey is fraught with danger as they work together to care for and defend the child in their care. Threats they expect, but their mutual attraction is something neither could anticipate. Sinclairs and Campbells are enemies, so there’s no way anything could happen between Shaw and Alana. Is there?

The Highland Outlaw is an exciting, engaging ride thanks to its two leads. Alana and Shaw have great personalities and fantastic chemistry, making the pages of their story fly by.

Alana has a generous heart, a spine of steel, and a deadly aim. She’s exactly the kind of heroine I enjoy and I liked her resourcefulness and spirit. As for Shaw, he’s a chieftain desperate to save his people and will go to great lengths to do so. He’s also as protective as they come and has more honor than he gives himself credit for. He and Alana clash, then become allies in the name of protecting the baby in their charge, and then they become something much more. Their dialogue made me smile, their romance made me sigh, and the way they cared for their vulnerable charge absolutely melted my heart. I loved every bit of Alana and Shaw’s journey and hated it whenever I had to put The Highland Outlaw down because I so wanted them to get their happily ever after.

Feuding clans aren’t the only problem in Shaw and Alana’s way. There are also the men hunting the child they’re sworn to protect, whose origins I’ll leave readers to discover. Alana and the Sinclair warriors with her are outgunned and outnumbered, but I’ll put my money on these fearsome Highlanders any day of the week. And though I must be purposefully vague so as to avoid spoilers, I enjoyed how the secrets, questions of loyalty, and various plots unfolded over the course of the book. Author Heather McCollum balanced the action and the romance perfectly there was never a dull moment in this book.

The Highland Outlaw is the fourth book in the Campbells series, but it can easily be read as a standalone. I’ve adored every single outing with the Campbell clan and the Highland Roses School, where women are taught everything from reading to self-defense. Alana and Shaw’s story is no exception and I dearly hope Ms. McCollum has more adventures in store for the Highland Roses. Ms. McCollum’s strong, compassionate, and skilled heroines and the brave, protective warriors who love them are always a draw for me.


FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Review: Eff This! Meditation by Liza Kindred

Eff This! Meditation:108 Tips, Tricks, and Ideas for When You're Stressed Out, Anxious, or Overwhelmed by Liza Kindred
Publisher: Rock Point
Genre: Health and Wellness
ISBN: 9781631066368
Release Date: October 22, 2019
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo

Are you stressed out, anxious, or overwhelmed? Get out of the storm swirling in your head—and into the peaceful place inside you. Eff This! Meditation will help you let that crap go…with 108 hands-on practices rooted in humor, love, straight talk, and a deep respect for the foundational teachings of Buddhism. If you’re ready to throw your hands in the air and yell “Eff This!” you are not alone—and this book can help.

You already know that you should meditate, and that meditation will make you happier and healthier. But you’re tired and irritated, and every time you try to meditate, your mind races and you can't stop thinking about that jerk at work. If this describes you, then this might be just what you need. This is not a joke, this is real meditation—and really effective practices—for everyday life. This book is a reference for you to come back to again and again. Integrate these tips into your daily life, or pull it off the shelf when you need a boost.

Learn to celebrate the small victories in life with a “to done” list. Release yourself from phone addiction with a digital detox plan. Get your body out of stress mode by practicing diaphragmatic breathing. Be transported, and open your heart with a pick-me-up playlist. These are just a few of the simple, practical strategies that will help you find your center.

Eff This! Meditation is a Shamatha (mindfulness-awareness) practice rooted in radical compassion for self, and presented in 108 tips, tricks, and ideas. They are all centered on the idea that, as humans, we might not be “finished,” but we are complete. Everything you need to attain enlightenment is already contained within you, and you can use meditation—and these practices—to connect with it.

The book offers 108 exercises, organized by the amount of time you have to help you respond to your current effing context.

There are a number of ways you can dive into the book:
Read it all the way through
Flip through and mark what seems interesting
Try all of the techniques, one by one
Grab the book in a panic and thumb through until something sticks out
Open the book to a random page and do that thing
However the eff you want; it’s your book now

Eff This! Meditation is a handy quick guide with centering and mental grounding practices. It’s not really a book on meditation as the title suggests, but rather an accessible book of quick tips that you can use to help calm yourself. The practices range from a minute to more than an hour, which I appreciated. It’s something you can flip through and mark your favorites for when you’re feeling overwhelmed and/or stressed. Author Liza Kindred has a very easygoing, nonjudgmental voice and her tips and tricks are not going to scare anyone off. The practices Ms. Kindred lists aren’t new or innovative and I will say that I’ve seen many of them on Pinterest before. Still, taking Eff This! Meditation for what it is, it’s a good resource written in an accessible way that will appeal to anyone looking to have a few quick tips to help when they’re stressed or anxious.


FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Review: Holiday by Candlelight by Laurel Greer

Holiday by Candlelight by Laurel Greer
Series: Sutter Creek, Montana, Book 3
Publisher: Harlequin Special Edition
Genre: Contemporary Romance
ISBN: 9781335574237
Paperback Release Date: October 15, 2019
Ebook Release Date: November 1, 2019
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Harlequin

A tragic accident ended the life he once knew

Is a Hanukkah miracle right around the corner?

This year, Dr. Caleb Matsuda could do without holiday cheer. After an avalanche robbed him of his ability to practice surgery, he struggles to make it through each day. He may be intrigued by new colleague Garnet James, but she’s also a search-and-rescue volunteer who could be in danger at any moment. If only she wasn’t perfect for the man he used to be…

You can’t judge a book by its cover, and that’s definitely the case for Holiday by Candlelight. While the couple embracing and lighting the menorah on the cover (not to mention the book blurb) might indicate a warm Hanukkah romance in the vein of the thousands of Christmas romances out there, it honestly has nothing to do with the holiday. Caleb, the Jewish hero of the story, is either an observant Jew or a bacon-loving nonobservant Jew. Either one or somewhere in between would be all well and good by me – how someone does or doesn’t practice their faith or incorporate their religion’s culture into their lives varies from person to person – but I wish it had been consistent for the length of the story. It felt like author Laurel Greer Googled some key words related to Judaism (and Hanukkah in particular) and then inserted them randomly in a few spots without any follow through. And presto! Diversity!

Not so much.

False advertising and the half-baked way Ms. Greer treats Judaism aside, Holiday by Candlelight had its ups and downs. Caleb was a top surgeon whose career came to a screeching halt when he was trapped in an avalanche and his hand was crushed. Caleb can’t perform surgery anymore and on top of that he has severe PTSD. Moving to Sutter Creek, Montana was supposed to help him move forward. But falling for Garnet James, a woman as adventurous and risk-loving as Caleb used to be, triggers him. Garnet has lost herself trying to fit in with others before and she’s determined not to compromise what she wants ever again. So her falling for the risk-adverse Caleb is an equally terrible idea. Of course, mutual attraction has other plans for them…

Caleb is an interesting and well-drawn hero. The avalanche, how it shaped him, and how he works through his fears and PTSD are compelling and make it easy to root for him. He was truly the big draw in this book and kept me turning the pages. Garnet…is not as appealing. She has potential, and I understood why she didn’t want to lose herself in a relationship, but for much of the book she comes across as selfish. A relationship isn’t balanced when only one person is compromising and given how Caleb struggles to work through his fears for her as well as himself, it was frustrating that Garnet spent so much of the book refusing to look beyond her own wants. Eventually she becomes a character I could enjoy more, but it takes most of the book. The romance between them was lacking in chemistry, which was a huge letdown. I really wished I could feel the pull between them, but everything about their supposed attraction felt flat. I was much more interested in the dynamics between side characters, past and possibly future Sutter Creek, Montana heroes and heroines.

Holiday by Candlelight isn’t a bad book, per se. There is simply a lot of potential to the characters and the story that goes unfulfilled. The story did finish strong, which was nice and left me with enough of a warm and fuzzy feeling to bump up the rating. Perhaps if it had had more of that energy throughout it would have been a more exciting tale. If you’re looking for a good interracial, interfaith, or Hanukkah-specific romance, this isn’t the book for you. But if you simply want a wintertime romance with skiing, Search and Rescue, an interesting hero, and guaranteed happily ever after, Holiday by Candlelight checks those boxes.


FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.